Detoxes and cleanses have been on trend for years, staying popular with promises of ridding your body of toxins as well as some extra pounds. Followers may tout feeling healthier and having more energy, but commercial detoxes are not only ineffective — they’re just generally bad for you.
Of course, certain detoxes have medical benefits — like if you’re doing, say, a colonoscopy prep — but those should be discussed with your doc. Here, we’ll break down how commercial detoxes and cleanses can harm your health, drain your wallet and compromise your sanity.
Detoxification, in theory, rids toxins from your body and gives your digestive system a break so it can better absorb nutrients in the days and weeks that follow, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
Popular commercial cleanses or detox regimens, per the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), include juices or smoothies, dietary supplements, laxatives and plain ol’ deprivation.
Although there are a ton of testimonials supporting these cleansing diets, there’s scant evidence they actually do what they promise to do, according to Harvard Health Publishing and the American Council on Exercise (ACE). In fact, there’s very little proof that harmful chemicals really accumulate in the body, since your liver and kidneys eliminate a lot of the bad stuff already.
The same goes for losing weight. There’s little data that these detox regimens make a lasting difference on the scale, per the NCCIH.
1. You’ll Lose, Then Gain
It’s pretty typical for someone to drop a few pounds with a juicing cleanse or a fasting program, per the NCCIH, because they’re so calorie-restrictive. In other words, you’re starving yourself.
According to KidsHealth, the weight that’s lost is mainly water, and most people regain the weight soon after completing the program, when normal food is reintroduced back into their daily diets.
Also, fasting for long periods of time can slow down a person’s metabolism, which makes it tougher to keep the weight off or to lose weight in the future.
2. You’ll Probably Shed Muscle Instead of Fat
Your body most likely won’t get enough protein from a detox plan, the National Center for Health Research reports, and lack of protein can cause a loss of precious muscle mass.
Also, not getting enough calories can make your body burn lean muscle instead of fat, according to a December 2018 study in Nutrients. Muscle is linked to a higher metabolic rate, which means a higher rate of calorie burning, according to the University of New Mexico. So, you definitely want to hang on to it.
3. You’ll Be Hungry, Tired and Irritable
Not only is a cleanse going to cause you to be pretty hungry, but you’ll also feel fatigued and cranky.
“Many cleanses are based on deprivation and focus on extreme caloric restriction, which can lead to extreme weakness,” says Shanna Levine, MD, owner of Goals Healthcare.
Since your body requires a certain amount of energy (calories) to perform even the most basic functions, if you’re not getting what you need, you’re going to start feeling lethargic and lose that mental edge, per the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. And if you’re that tired, how will you even exercise?
4. You Won’t Get the Vitamins and Minerals You Need
Long-term fasting or juicing not only results in fatigue, but also vitamin and nutrient deficiencies, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Think that’s not a big deal? Low iron can result in anemia, per the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, and low calcium can mean weakened bones. Vitamin D deficiency may result in bone pain and muscle weakness, while bleeding gums, easy bruising and wounds that seem to heal slowly may be a sign of a vitamin C insufficiency.
5. You Might End Up With Tummy Troubles
“The most dangerous cleanse is a laxative-induced cleanse, as this can cause electrolyte imbalance and dehydration,” Dr. Levine says.
Using detoxes that contain laxatives will also lead to cramping and diarrhea, according to the ACE. Not only is that unpleasant, but it could be kind of embarrassing.
6. You Could Risk Kidney Failure
Some juices and smoothies are made with foods high in oxalate, a naturally occurring substance. A review published September 2013 in The American Journal of Medicine reported that heavy consumption of oxalate-rich juices can cause oxalate nephropathy, which causes acute renal failure.
Beets, berries and spinach are just a few foods to watch out for, according to the National Kidney Foundation.
7. Some Juices Are Unpasteurized
When juices are fresh-squeezed and served raw (untreated), bacteria can end up contaminating what you’re planning to gulp down, according to the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA). Food poisoning or other serious infections can occur. Best to look for a warning label.
8. Most Are Not FDA-Approved
“A detox or cleanse can be potentially harmful because they are not necessarily regulated by the FDA,” says Ashley Kravitz, RD, owner of Nutrition Specialists of New Jersey. “Technically, detoxes or cleanses can have ingredients within the product that are not healthy or beneficial to our bodies.”
And sometimes they can be downright harmful. “Some cleanses may ask a person to ingest herbs that can cause liver damage,” Dr. Levine says.
In fact, the FDA has taken action against several companies selling detoxes or cleanses that contained illegal, potentially harmful ingredients and/or were marketed falsely. Detox Plus, Golean Detox and Dream Body Advanced + Acai Weight Loss & Cleanse are just a few on that list.
9. They Can Be (Literal) Pains in the Butt
Colon cleansing used to be for medical purposes only, but now it’s very trendy in the detox world. Colonics, according to the Mayo Clinic, can cause a bunch of side effects, like a tear in the rectum (ouch!), diarrhea, cramping, bloating, nausea, dehydration and infection.
10. Your Wallet Can Take a Hit
Cleanses can get pretty pricey, especially when you’re looking to buy one or two weeks’ worth of juices or full detox kits (which could include juices, teas, supplements, etc). Pricing goes from around $50 up to about $500. Just think about all the healthy and filling food you could buy with that money.
The picture begins even more grim when you consider, again, that these cleanses likely won’t deliver what they’re promising.
11. They Compromise Your Sanity
Detoxes and cleanses not only hurt you physically and financially, but also psychologically. An article published December 2014 in Nutritional Sciences notes that fasting for long periods of time as well as calorie restriction increases cortisol and stress levels. Ironically, this could make it harder to lose weight because cortisol and stress have been shown to stimulate the appetite.
What’s more, associating food with guilt and contamination could set up an unhealthy relationship with nutrition.
And let’s say you do see some results on the scale initially. “If a detox causes a drastic drop in weight very quickly, it can become very mentally draining as we see the number on the scale increase again (even though it is just simply water weight!),” Kravitz says.
Safer, Natural Ways to Cleanse
Remember that your body can do all the dirty work.
“The idea of a detox or cleanse is not medically necessary,” Dr. Levine says. “Our bodies detoxify our blood on their own. Kidneys work to filter blood and balance your electrolytes. The liver works to detoxify chemicals and to metabolize drugs.”
If you feel like you need to hit the reset button, though, she recommends hitting the hay: “The greatest detox is a good night’s sleep. Sleep removes toxins from the brain.”
Once you’re feeling refreshed, heed this advice from Kravitz: “When patients ask about naturally detoxifying, I usually recommend increasing water intake, regularly exercising and maintaining an overall healthy and well-balanced diet (fresh fruits and veggies, lean proteins, healthy fats and whole grains).”